Earlier this month, Defense Secretary Robert Gates announced a plan to reorient defense spending away from lucrative boondoggles for contractors and toward systems that are proven to work and are needed in present-day military situations. Conservatives immediately cried foul; Sen. Saxby Chambliss (R-GA) went so far as to claim that the Obama administration “is willing to sacrifice the lives of American military men and women for the sake of domestic programs.”
Right-wing pundit Bill Kristol was among the conservatives fearmongering about the supposed “cuts.” Following North Korea’s test launch of a missile, Kristol declared that “it is scary to have a president” talk about cutting the defense budget. “It is a very dangerous moment,” he said. Today on Bill Bennett’s radio show, Kristol said he hoped that the pirate crisis would make President Obama think twice before following through on the proposed budget reforms:
KRISTOL: Unfortunately, given the world we live in, this [military funding] is not something we can skimp. And that’s another thing I hope the president realizes —
BENNETT: Budget cuts. The defense budget cuts, right?
KRISTOL: Well I hope he thinks about that. I mean, a lot of things that don’t look necessary — who needs the a big destroyer, the U.S.S. Bainbridge? Who needs Seals getting hours, weeks, months of training being snipers, isn’t that something that went out of fashion 70 years go? You can imagine people making these arguments. And it turns out, a lot of these things turn out to be important. … And I do hope it makes him sort of understand that there’s no substitute for having a strong and large military, honestly.
Kristol cites the pirate crisis — and the use of the U.S.S. Bainbridge — as some sort of proof that the plan to shift resources away from costly Naval destroyers is misguided. However, there was no need for a massive naval destroyer; in fact, it took “several hours” for the 8,000-ton ship to arrive at the scene. Indeed, as Matthew Yglesias noted, Gates himself mocked the idea that such ships could defend against pirates:
Gates is holding on to the Littoral Combat System project for the Navy even though the program has had a lot of cost overruns and so forth. Gates said that despite the problems, “I think it has a capability we just have to have.” Specifically, the promise of a ship that’s not only agile, but relative cheap on a per-ship basis is large. “You don’t need a $5 billion ship to go after pirates,” Gates said.
A greater number of less expensive ships would be arguably more effective than fewer, expensive naval destroyers like the Bainbridge and its even more expensive successors, the DDG-1000, which Gates is seeking to cut. Indeed, the defense budget reforms reflect the type of “reshaping,” Gates said, “that the combatant commanders are asking for.”
Kristol is not alone is seeking to use the pirate crisis to shill for increased defense spending. Last week, Fox military analyst Lt. Gen. Tom McInerney said on air that he would deploy the massively expensive and unproved F-22 to combat pirates. Conveniently, McInerney is a consultant for one of the F-22′s major contractors.